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  • Writer's pictureDr. MeiLan Han

2020 in Perspective

As I was staring out my window this morning, I began thinking about how much the world has changed in just a year. At this exact time last year, I never would have dreamt that at this moment we would be in the grips of a worldwide pandemic.

On a personal note, while I have still been going into the hospital to see patients, much of my work is now done remotely. While I used to spend half my life on a plane, travel has come to a screeching halt.

And who would have guessed that my seven-year-old son would be teaching me the nuances of how to annotate in Zoom?

The field of medicine, however, has also learned much. Despite years of simulations and disaster planning, we were not prepared: not as a country, not as a profession, and not as individuals. Even I, as a respiratory healthcare professional, had been lulled into a sense of complacency when SARS and MERS had previously been contained. There will be many lessons for us to take with us into the future, but I am proud of my colleagues who served on the front lines.

I am proud of the scientific community for banding together to develop COVID-19 treatments and vaccines at lightning speeds, never previously thought possible. Some of what we have learned has the potential to improve the development and efficacy of vaccines for other viruses for years to come. And one lesson we can all learn is the power of being prepared for personal health emergencies.

The pandemic has also brought to the foreground the socioeconomic and racial disparities that exist within our healthcare systems affecting young and old alike. Long-standing assumptions are being questioned, and rightly so. Factors such as racial bias in pulse oximetry measurements and race adjustments for “normal” equations we use within the healthcare system including pulmonary function equations are finally being examined.

The onus is now on us as a community to honor those we have lost by taking what we have learned and striving to do better. 2021 is already off to a much rougher start than any of us would have imagined. Yet at the same time, vaccines continue to roll out of the Pfizer plant located in my home state of Michigan, and I remain hopeful that there is a light for us at the end of this tunnel.

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